Willie Mullins not concerned about stable form despite weekend blank

Cheltenham hope Felix Desjy lands Punchestown feature for Gordon Elliott

Trainer Willie Mullins is not concerned about a flat start to the new year that has yielded just four wins from 26 runners. Photograph: David Davies/PA Wire

Willie Mullins has dismissed any significance to a dip in the usual strike rate of his hugely powerful string during the opening weeks of the new year.

The champion trainer has had four winners from 26 runners so far in 2019, one of which was Laurina in a two-horse race at Sandown.

He drew a blank with four more runners at Punchestown on Sunday where Buildmeupbuttercup was an eighth Mullins-trained favourite to be beaten so far this year in the Grade Two Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle

Instead it was Mullins's great rival Gordon Elliott who landed the feature with Felix Desjy, who made all under substitute rider Seán Flanagan.


Elliott then doubled up when Vision D’honneur smoothly beat the Mullins runner Elixir D’Ainay in a maiden hurdle. It sealed a successful weekend for Elliott who notched a hat-trick at Fairyhouse on Saturday.

After finishing only fifth in the big race, Buildmeupbuttercup was reported to be “blowing hard” following a veterinary examination.

A week previously Tornado Flyer was pulled up in a Grade One at Naas in which his stable companion Come To Me was coughing afterwards.

That came on the back of Mullins expressing disappointment about a number of his runners over Christmas.

However, on Sunday jump racing’s dominant figure ruled out illness among his horses as a factor.

“It’s just a very different year. We haven’t had a winter season yet. That affects everyone, not just us. Lots of horses that should be running aren’t because of the ground. But it’s probably more noticeable with the top yards because they have more runners,” he said.

Earlier on the card Mullins’s hope Undressed was pulled up behind Se Mo Laoch in a handicap chase but his other runner in the Moscow Flyer, Harrie, rallied to finish third after looking beaten half a mile out.

“Some, like the maidens especially, are running like they need the run which is not a bad thing. It means they should improve. But horses are winning. We were leading trainer at Christmas with winners and, I think, percentage of winners,” Mullins added.

He will hope for better fortune with five starters at the same track on Monday. Elliott has nine declarations and Davy Russell will hope to recover in time to ride three of them.

A fall in Sunday’s opener left Russell sore, with Felix Desjy thriving under Flanagan’s front-running tactics, eventually holding off Jetez by five lengths.

“He disappointed us a few times but we were dropping him in and I’d say it was the wrong way to ride him. He likes striding along and jumps well,” Elliott said. “I’d say the key is letting him stride along. His jumping was very slick. I’d imagine the Supreme Novice is where we’ll go.”

Felix Desjy was subsequently quoted as low as 20-1 for the opening race at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Similar festival odds are available on Winter Escape for the JLT after the JP McManus-owned horse belied a betting drift out to 12-1 and landed the Grade Three Total Event Novice Chase in good style.

Mark Walsh's mount successfully conceded a stone to the 5-4 favourite A Plus Tard and give his trainer Aidan Howard a valuable victory.

“I was worried about giving the favourite all the weight but he’s a class horse,” said Walsh who was riding his 50th winner of the season. “Aidan has done some job with him. When he has one he can train them. He does some pre-training for JP and he left this one with him.”

The ultra-consistent Se Mo Laoch ultimately landed the amateur handicap chase in dogged style from Whisperinthebreeze.

“He’s a super horse. He’s running every couple of weeks and is so consistent. He keeps your name up there,” said the 9-2 winner’s Co Clare based trainer Brian McMahon.

Claimer Eoin Mahon did the steering and McMahan added: “He’s given him an unbelievable ride. He took his time when they got racing a bit early and came home strongest of all.”

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column